This review contains spoilers.
In The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey manages to write a thoroughly enjoyable story filled with characters who frequently make it difficult to like them. Even Miss Justineau, who through Melanie’s eyes seems like angelic perfection, isn’t particularly so once you get inside her head — not only is there the revelation about her hit-and-run accident, but there’s also the fact that her thoughts about Melanie frequently are not the motherly affection Melanie assumes her to feel. She’s more pragmatic and distant than that inside her own head.
The interesting thing is that despite these characters’ flaws and unlikeability, I found myself rooting for them anyway. Gallagher was a self-admitted coward who abandoned a girl he’d gotten pregnant and I still wanted him to find a way to make it out of all this alive.
The novel certainly works as a straight-forward story, but I wonder if readers who aren’t familiar with Greek mythology and beliefs would pick up on some of the details Carey included. For instance, Gallagher abandoned a pregnant woman and was then consumed alive by children. Such an ending is very in keeping with the beliefs and humour of ancient Greece.
There is also, of course, the myth the story itself frequently mentions: Pandora. But what the novel didn’t outright state is that the name “Pandora” has two meanings. It not only means “the all-gifted,” but also “the all-giving.” The name itself captures the dual-nature of Pandora and Melanie: the girl is both blessed and does the blessing.
I bring this up because it’s an important factor in the ending of the novel: when Melanie opens the proverbial pithos by breaking open the spores, she is unleashing destruction on humanity as we know it. So was Pandora, who was created to mark the change from the previous “Golden Age” of humanity wherein human beings were all men and were immortal, to the new “Silver Age” where women and the cycle of birth and death were introduced. Pandora brought an end to the world as those men knew it, but she also brought hope of a new form of humanity. In this way, she takes up the “all-giving” title. This is what Melanie is really doing at the end of the book. Though she is destroying the current form of humanity, she’s ushering in the new age of humanity 2.0. Melanie is gifted, but she also gifts.
There are further parallels to the myth contained within the story, particularly with Caroline Caldwell, but I’ll let you decide for yourself what they mean to you.
I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and particularly appreciated the way Carey was able to keep the tension sustained throughout the story. I hope you enjoyed this month’s fiction selection as much as I did, and Aliya will be back on the 1st of September with Lord Of Misrule, Christopher Lee’s autobiography.
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